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Reindeer are shrinking because of climate change. Put the cookies out for them, not Santa.

Wild reindeer forage for food on the island of Spitsbergen, part of the Svalbard archipelago in Norway. (Ben Birchall/PA via Associated Press)

Dear Children,

There is no easy way to say this, so I’ll just cut to the chase: My sleigh will be bringing fewer Christmas gifts this year. My reindeer, I’m afraid, are simply too small to lug such large loads anymore.

I assure you this is not because I have eaten too many cookies, nor is this a letter actually written by your parents who forgot to buy presents. It’s also not because you’ve been naughty. It is, scientists tell me, due to climate change (which this resident of the warming Arctic, unlike the U.S. president-elect, believes is real).

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Let me try to explain. The reindeer I employ are carefully selected each year from Svalbard, a rugged Norwegian archipelago about 800 miles from my North Pole home. Researchers who have studied the herd there for two decades say that higher temperatures have brought a smorgasbord of summer vegetation for our antlered friends. The gorging has made lady reindeer heavier in the fall and more likely to get pregnant.

But in the winter, those same warmer temps are turning what used to be falling snow into rain. When it lands, it freezes into a sheet of ice. Back in the day, when the precipitation (look it up in the dictionary) fell as powdery snow, fuzzy reindeer noses — and Rudolph’s red one — could more easily push it aside to feast on the yummy vegetation beneath. Hoofs helped, too.

Now their tummies growl all winter, which causes some females to lose their babies or give birth to smaller calves in the spring. Those calves then have smaller calves, and so on. This has changed the reindeer. Scientists from the James Hutton Institute in Scotland, the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences who weighed my four-legged Christmas helpers found that the average adult-reindeer weight dropped from 121 pounds for those born in 1994 to 106 pounds for those born in 2010.

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Strangely, I’ve noticed that there seem to be a lot more reindeer in Svalbard. The scientists say it’s not just my imagination: That summer extravaganza has helped the herd nearly double in size. But then I read what lead researcher Steve Albon told Science Daily. More reindeer means more competition for the frozen-over greenery in winter, which could lead to what he called “catastrophic die-offs.”

Excuse me for a minute while I grab a tissue. Even Jolly Old Saint Nick is devastated by the idea of a reindeer die-off.

But don’t worry! We won’t let this ruin Christmas. Now that I know about this, I’ll adjust next year and bring smaller presents. We’re also experimenting with adding a couple of reindeer to the team, but so far they keep getting tangled up.

And now that Dancer, Prancer and the rest of the crew know what’s going on, they’re adjusting their reindeer games by picking sports better suited to the small in stature. Less rugby; more gymnastics.

Good luck to all of us, right? And ho, ho, ho!



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